Tuesday, July 14, 2015

51 and counting, in spite of all the troubles!

Left Greece yesterday firmly believing that the ship I am abandoning is, for all intents and purposes, un-sinkable -- and if you are at all familiar with the history of the last 100 years, you know what I am talking about. The Greek people are stoics, philosophers, and fighters all rolled into one. They will never go down without fight!   

The newest proposed measures look to be worse than ever, but with real prospects for economic recovery.  The lack of cash has caused a cascade of serious problems that most American citizens would find unbelievable AND intolerable. And it was impossible to see the end of the tunnel if the creditors do not cut the debt, like they did for Germany in 1953. That is why Greeks voted OXI, and I am very proud of how they stood up for themselves no matter who is to blame for the current situation.  

All the while, I ran around for 6 weeks trying to find relatives, and then to seek out graduates of the American Farm School's Girls School Department -- forays into towns and villages which gave me even more insight into the economic situation. I worked at the School 1968-78 (under a military dictatorship for 7 of those years, I might add!) and was pretty tight with students their families. I kept in touch with many up until about 1985, then radio silence...my fault.

So how do I explain that I have now ‎visited 51 such graduates -- some of whom have led rather extraordinary lives --  who acted as if 40+ years have not gone by? Miss Paula is now much older and overweight, but they don't seem to care -- maybe because some of them aren't so svelte any more either. The way I was greeted by these people went beyond my wildest expectations.‎ I could have stayed 6 months if I took them all up on their invitations to stay in their homes!

That must be what they call unconditional love -- and I like to think it is because we had an extraordinary program for kids from villages, especially for girls who were not sent to high school by their parents. They spent 2 years with us and we filled the time with traditional classwork, homemaking/handicraft training and anything else we could think of to mold mothers and community leaders. A few remembered that I taught them play badminton of all things, others the "Smile" awards I conjured up for best dorm rooms, etc. One even used a certificate she got for best candle-maker to get a loan for an amazing decorative candle company she created -- but which has now gone bye-bye because most people can't afford that sort of expenditure any more. (The same for many small businesses which couldn't compete in markets saturated with goods from China and the like.) 

Most importantly, these now 50+ years-old women loved getting together with others they had not seen or heard from for many years as I went around gathering them up and sharing contact information. They loved talking about their school experience and how important it was. Eleni, Tassoula, Fotini, Aleka, Mairi, Despina, Chrystallo, Isaiah, Peristera, Glykeria -- some are widows, others are still working hard (at the very least helping pick cherries or peaches or olives during harvest seasons in their hometowns), and most are grandmothers tending to large extended families challenged daily by these severely depressed times.  

So my new mission in life is to reach them all, creating some sort of network/association for today -- to renew the friendships they had, share their life experiences, and help each other when they can. 51 was great, but 205 will be a whole lot better.

NOTE: A big shout-out to my partners in crime (above top photo), Vasso née Gondinou '74 ("Sherlock Holmes"as I dubbed her and a leader in her village) and Ioanna née Ntekou '73 (hostess and driver par excellence, and teacher in a special needs school for 26 years!) -- who not only came along for the ride‎, but organized a good bit of it. They seemed to enjoy those encounters even more than me -- and are working on the next phase as we speak. Double OPA!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

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